The Secret Origin of Bassel Khartabil The Open Source Open Hardware Developer

Jon Phillips, [email protected] 1.0, 2019-04-25

Bassel opened the internet in the Arab world. His life and legacy goes beyond software. He knew that software was easy to control and runs on hardware. He believed people should be empowered. Technically, this means you must own your hardware in order to trust who commands it to do what. So he also invested into open hardware projects. He was the first to buy the first open hardware platform, Qi Nanonote and the first to buy the Qi Milkymist, the first bitcoin miner. Bassel’s ethos and cultural DNA is interwoven in cryptocurrency and the questions he wrestled with, dying in service of, are still unsolved. Yet again, we need Bassel, but he was executed unjustly in the country he loved, Syria. We are left with his philosophies on nonviolent communication, scientific inquiry, service to family and friends, and plain being a cool guy. His writings and artwork are our guide. It is now our job. We are Bassel.


Much has been written about Bassel. This is an attempt to keep a longer term updated list of major Bassel Khartabil moments written down. If you have a data point or an update to this timeline, please send edit or pull request. @rejon


  • Bassel Born, Damascus, Syria


  • Learned English from CD-ROM on dad’s computer


  • Got computer (Faraj Rifai), Gift from Mother


  • Bassel begins work on Palmyra 3D Reconstruction, with Khaled al-Asaad
  • January 15, 2001: Creative Commons Launched


  • November 2, 2003: Inkscape is born.


  • 2004: Openclipart is born.
  • 2004: Openclipart Call for Participation
  • 2004: Bassel meets Jon in IRC, @rejon meets @bassel
  • 2004: Bassel Responds with gift, software patch


  • 2005: WRONG date from Wired article: Aikilab Opened in Damascus


  • November 7, 2006: Openmoko Launched




  • University of Damascus, Open Art and Technology
  • Bassel convinces Al Jazeera to release footage under CC license
  • October/November: First hackerspace proposal “SAMA Lab” applied for Berkman MEPI proposal
  • Qi Hardware starts


  • January: SAMA Lab proposal denied, changed hackerspace name to Aikilab
    • first hackerspace in Arab World/Middle East
  • Qi Hardware Ben Nanonote launched (first open source computer)
  • Qi Hardware Milkymist launched (first bitcoin miner)


  • Arab Spring erupted
  • Aikilab closed by Syrian security forces, equipment stolen
  • April 2011: Noura and Bassel meet in Douma
  • September, Creative Commons Warsaw, last time Bassel seen
  • December 2011: United Nations reports 5,000 Syrians killed
  • December 17, Bassel tweets: “They can’t stop us #Syria”


  • March 15: Bassel Detained by Syrian Military Intelligence
  • Imprisoned in Saydnaya Prison
  • DATE CHECK: Freebassel Campaign launched
  • October 2012: Amnesty International released document suggesting Bassel was tortured
  • 23 October: Amnesty International Taiwan runs letter writing campaign
  • 26 November: Bassel on Foreign Policy Top 100 Global Thinkers list.
  • 9 December 2012, Khartabil was brought before a military prosecutor who charged him with “spying for an enemy State. (WP)


  • Syrian government used chemical weapons on civilians in East Ghouta
  • NEED DATE: 2013 Bassel meets in prison, filmmaker Wael Saad al-Deen
  • 15 March: 1st #FREEBASSELDAY
  • 22 May: Bassel’s birthday and launch of Project Sunlight to put big spotlight on his situation
  • 21 March: Index on Censorship’s Digital Freedom Award, sponsored by Google
  • NEED DATE: Karl Fogel’s Producing Open Source Software, by Bassel (unreleased)
  • NEED DATE: Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture, translated by Bassel (unreleased)
  • 12 December: European Parliament to the Commission (Vice-President/High Representative) raised Bassel issue.


  • 23 January: Marc Weidenbaum, Djunto on Bassel creates 38 musical pieces
  • 2014, ISIS declared a “caliphate” headquartered in Raqqa
  • US-led coalition began bombing Iraq and Syria
  • 15 March: FREEBASSELDAY Wikipedia Edit-a-thon
  • 18 March: European Parliament to the Commission publishes written statement
  • Late 2015: New Palmyra, Institute for Digital Archaeology began contributing to the New Palmyra Project (WP)


  • Syrian refugee crisis, which had already overwhelmed neighboring countries Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, spilled into the Mediterranean, with thousands of migrants—many of them Syrian, many of them children—dying in the sea.
  • Feb 14 (valentines day): Noura makes public love letter she wrote to Bassel
  • 21 April, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) says Bassel was “arbitrarily” detained.
  • May: Islamic State extremist group destroyed Palmyra’s most precious monuments and al-Asaad, the archaeologist with whom Khartabil had collaborated to make his replica of the ancient site, was beheaded in a public square
  • October 3: Disappeared (Wael was with Bassel when this happened)
  • October 3: Bassel moved to unknown location with a ‘top secret’ sealed order from the Military Field Court
  • October 6: Amnesty International releases status update on Bassel
  • October 7: A day later, Human Rights Watch and 30 other human rights organizations issued a letter demanding that Khartabil’s whereabouts be disclosed
  • October 17: Creative Commons Board of Directors, approved resolution calling for Khartabil’s release.
  • October 21: New Palmyra Project launched
  • October 22: MIT Media Lab offered Khartabil a position of research scientist at the Center for Civic Media to work with Ethan Zuckerman
  • October: Executed (but unknown until Aug 1, 2017)
  • November 9: The Cost of Freedom: A Collective Inquiry book released


  • New Palmyra: 12-ton lifesize replica of part of the Arch of Triumph was carved into stone, London’s Trafalgar Square in 2016
  • New Palmyra: 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale


  • May 2: New Palmyra, Tetrapylon by Bassel launched at CC Summit Toronto
  • August 1, 2017: Noura Ghazi confirms Bassel’s death.
  • August 11, 2017: Wikimedia/Wikipedia Announce Creation of Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship


  • February 7/8: Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship Announced
  • Feb 2018: New Palmyra, first 3d model uploaded to Wikimedia/Wikipedia, Asad Al-Lat
  • April 15: First Bassel Fellow Announced, Majd Al-shihabi


  • May: Majd Al-shihabi keynote at CC Summit




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